Friday December 17th, 2010

Weekend Picks
 
Saturday, December 18
 
3:30 p.m. ET (Fox Sports Florida)No. 6 Kansas State (9-1) vs. Florida (7-2) in Sunrise, Fla.
If this game came down to free throws, the Gators would be in good shape. Unfortunately for them, I don't think it will. Florida is shooting horrendously from three-point range (31.8 percent, which ranks next to last in the SEC), and it might be a worse defensive team than it was last year. The Wildcats, on the other hand, should be able to shut down Vernon Macklin and company down low thanks to the duo of Jordan Henriquez-Robert and Freddy Asprilla, who are both ranked in the top 10 in the Big 12 in blocks.
 
4:30 p.m. ET (ESPN2)Gonzaga (4-5) vs. No. 9 Baylor (7-0) in Dallas
This will be Baylor's first real test of the season. (The Bears' only tough game was a 14-point win at home over Arizona State.) Besides getting nice production from usual suspects LaceDarius Dunn and Quincy Acy, the Bears have seen solid improvement from sophomore point guard A.J. Walton, who is averaging 6.2 assists and 2.7 steals per game.
 
2 p.m. ETCleveland State (12-0) at West Virginia (7-2)
The Vikings have a true hidden gem in senior guard Norris Cole (21.3 points, 4.6 assists, 41.7 percent from three), but while this is not necessarily a vintage Bob Huggins team, the Mountaineers will pose a much tougher defensive test than anything Cleveland State has faced. That's why the Vikings' undefeated season will come to an end in Morgantown.
 
5:30 p.m. ET (Fox Sports Net)No. 16 BYU (10-0) vs. UCLA (5-4) in Anaheim, Calif.
When I assessed every undefeated team in America in this week's mailbag, I almost picked this to be BYU's first loss. After a couple of days to think some more, I realize I should have. Yes, the Bruins suffered an embarrassing pratfall at home against Montana, but it is not uncommon for a young team to play to the level of its competition -- for better and for worse. UCLA's top priority will be to contain Jimmer Fredette, but BYU needs to do an equally good job on Bruins sophomore forward Tyler Honeycutt, a budding star who is ranked in the top 10 in the Pac 10 in points (15.3), rebounds (8.4), blocks (1.78), field goal percentage (45.5) and three-point percentage (37.8).
 
4 p.m. ET (CBS)No. 22 Texas (8-2) vs. North Carolina (7-3) in Greensboro, N.C.
Did Harrison Barnes turn a corner last weekend? The Tar Heels' much-heralded, highly-scrutinized freshman had his best game of the season, putting up 19 points and 10 rebounds in a win over Long Beach State. Obviously competition in this game will be a lot tougher. Tyler Zeller, North Carolina's 7-foot junior center, could have an advantage against a Longhorns team that doesn't have much height, but Texas is such a tough, lockdown defensive squad (ninth in the U.S. in defensive efficiency) that Carolina's guards will have an awfully hard time getting him the ball.
 
Noon ET Oakland (6-5) at Michigan (8-2)
If I took this game in isolation, I would probably go with the Golden Grizzlies, even in Ann Arbor. But since they are coming off a headline-grabbing road win at Tennessee, which followed losses to Illinois and Michigan State, I'm guessing this is a team that is physically and emotionally spent. No, Michigan doesn't have anyone who can match up with man-child Keith Benson, the nation's second-leading rebounder, but the Wolverines will try to limit Benson by keeping this as a low-possession game. With sophomore point guard Darius Morris starting to come into his own, I think they'll be capable of doing just that.
 
1 p.m. ET (Fox Sports Net)UCF (9-0) vs. Miami (7-2) in Sunrise, Fla.
I'll stick with my mailbag prediction that UCF will suffer its first loss here, but it's not because I don't think the Knights are a good team. While Marcus Jordan gets most of the hype because of his last name and his team-high 18 points in the win over Florida, UCF's real stud is sophomore forward Keith Clanton, who ranks in the top 10 in Conference USA in points (17.0), rebounds (9.0) and blocks (1.78). Still, the Hurricanes have some pretty good wins, too, against West Virginia and Ole Miss at home, and they nearly knocked off Memphis on the road. You can be sure that Malcolm Grant, Durand Scott et. al. will not be caught napping in this one.
 
2 p.m. ET (CBS)Stanford (6-2) at Butler (5-4)
Butler has played a rigorous nonconference schedule, but all their tough ones have been away from home. Nobody needs the friendly confines (and rims) of Hinkle Fieldhouse more than juinor guard Shelvin Mack, whose three-point percentage has plummeted from 39.1 percent last season to 30.4 this year. Stanford boasts a pretty good sharpshooter of its own in 6-4 junior Jeremy Green (16.3 ppg on 44.7 percent from three), but he won't be enough to get a win for the Cardinal, a freshman-loaded team that lost earlier this season at home to Murray State and on the road at Tulsa.
 
8 p.m. ETVirginia Tech (5-4) vs. Mississippi State (7-2) at The Bahamas
This will mark the official debut of Mississippi State center Renardo Sidney, who was suspended one year and nine games for receiving extra benefits and then lying about it to NCAA investigators. Sidney's unofficial debut came Wednesday in an exhibition game, and it was hardly overwhelming. He had 10 points and six rebounds and played just 15 minutes because of cramps. It will be a long time before Sidney gets into shape, and while Virginia Tech has had its share of struggles in the early going (including a loss at home to Virginia), the Hokies know that their NCAA at-large hopes could suffer a devastating blow if they drop this one.
 
Sunday, December 19
 
4:30 p.m. ET (Fox Sports Net)Arizona (8-2) at North Carolina State (6-3)
There was one potential bright spot for Arizona in the wake of its 22-point drubbing at the hands of BYU last weekend. Lamont Jones, a 6-foot sophomore guard from Harlem who had made just two three pointers all season, knocked down four treys in five attempts en route to a career-high 20 points. Was that an aberration or the start of something good? Meanwhile, N.C. State expects to see the return of senior forward Tracy Smith, who hasn't played since the season's second game because of a knee injury, but as good as Smith is it will take him a couple of weeks to shake off the rust and get into shape.
 
Record Last Week: 3-7               Overall: 12-8
 

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